Although the towering figure of Karlheinz Stockhausen now dominates the landscape of German art music in the 1960s, one of Germanyâ€™s most promising composers in the postwar period was Bernd AloÃ¯s Zimmermann. Zimmermannâ€™s Die Soldaten revolutionized German opera, introducing mass media elements and incorporating structured improvisations akin to free jazz; cutting edge opera in Germany had basically lain dormant since Alban Berg set aside his opera Lulu in 1935, never to return. â€œWhen Bernd first submitted Die Soldaten to me in 1958,â€ recalled conductor Michael Gielen in 1985, â€œI immediately handed it back to him because there were no barlines in the score. â€˜You canâ€™t stage it,â€™ I told him, â€˜without barlines and cues you cannot keep the production in one piece.â€™ So he took it back and spent the next three years adding the barlines. When he was done, of course I was happy to conduct it.â€ The premiere, however, didnâ€™t occur until 1965 when Die Soldaten was finally produced by the Cologne Opera.
Over the years Die Soldaten has slowly found a foothold in semi-standard opera repertoire and remains Zimmermannâ€™s most celebrated achievement. However, many view Zimmermannâ€™s Requiem fÃ¼r einen jungen dichter (Requiem for a Young Poet, 1969-69) as his definitive statement, a massive requiem scored for three choruses, soprano and bass soloists, with speaking parts assigned to actors and persons within the chorus, organ, electronic tapes, a jazz combo, and an orchestra of Straussian proportions. Zimmermann originally had planned to limit the words used in the requiem to young poets who had committed suicide -â€“ for example, the revolutionary Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. Zimmermann ultimately found himself opening up to all kinds of verbal sources in multiple languages; political speeches, passages from the Latin Vulgate, the voices of Chairman Mao, Hitler, and even a snatch of The Beatlesâ€™ â€œHey Jude.â€ What Zimmermann constructed in the end was a powerful requiem not just addressed to the ill-fated poets, but to the 20th century as a whole and its crisis of media overload in what is now called â€œdata smog.â€ However, this work drained Zimmermann completely. â€œBernd was a manic depressive,â€ remembered Gielen, â€œhe was manic when he was composing, but depressive when he had finished. When he slipped into that final depression after the Requiem for a Young Poet, everyone around him knew that he wasnâ€™t going to come out of this one.â€ Zimmermann had good reason to be upset; he had come in contact with chemical weapons while fighting on the front lines in Russia in 1941 and never fully recovered. By 1969 Zimmermannâ€™s eyesight was failing. After suffering a nervous breakdown and enduring several months of hospitalization, the 52-year old composer took his own life on August 10, 1970.
Although Requiem fÃ¼r einen jungen dichter is referred to in literature about contemporary music as a major achievement, it has nevertheless long remained one masterpiece that nobody could hear. A limited edition LP of the premiere was pressed up and sold as a fundraising item for charity. A CD version of this performance was released at one time by Wergo, but for reason seems impossible to obtain. Working with a consortium of Dutch institutions, including the Dutch Catholic Radio Broadcasting Organization, the Kunststiftung NRW, and others, Cybele Records has produced a stereo multi-channel, surround sound, SACD of the Requiem, drawing from a rare performance given in Haarlem in 2005 and led by conductor Bernhard Kontarsky. One astounding aspect of Requiem fÃ¼r einen jungen dichter is that it hasnâ€™t in the least dated -â€“ the surround sound is terrific in projecting the various voices in the tapes into all the directions Zimmermann intends; speaking voices from tape and live voices from the stage mesh together seamlessly into a dense web of controlled confusion. When the three choruses are all given to yelling at once, the very sound of it sends chills up oneâ€™s spine. All of the spoken material is included in the booklet, though this is rendered in print so tiny one may need a magnifying glass. Several score pages are likewise reproduced, plus a diagram of the performance and numerous photographs. Cybeleâ€™s effort on behalf of Zimmermann is truly comprehensive and impressive, and restores to 21st century listeners this gigantic work that served as Bernd Zimmermannâ€™s final testament.
For more information on this, and other Cybele releases, visit Cybele Records' website.
Claudia Barainsky, soprano; David Pittman-Jennings, baritone; Michael Rotschopf & Lutz Lansemann, principal speakers; Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno; Slovak Philharmonic Choir; EuropaChorAkademie; Eric Vloeimans Quintet; Jan Hage, organ; JoÃ£o Rafael, electronics; Bernhard Kontarsky & the Holland Symfonia - Zimmermann: Requiem fÃ¼r einen jungen dichter
Dona Nobis Pacem